When Rabbi Sholom Ber Cohen and his wife Feigie arrived in Carroll County in 2013, they knew there was a need for Jewish community building in a county that for years had no working synagogue or resident rabbi.
Five years later, the Cohens are expecting more than 100 people at the Chabad Jewish Center of Carroll County’s High Holiday services. Last week, the rabbi was locking down a location for the services, as their home and center, an Eldersburg townhouse, isn’t large enough to accommodate the four days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.
“Basically, what we do is during the year about once a month we get together with a nice crowd and do services,” Cohen said. “But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays, we would be in a storefront in the community.”
This year, Cohen said he was securing a space in Freedom Village shopping center on Liberty Road in Eldersburg.
Cohen, originally from Leeds in the north of England, and his wife, originally from Montreal, were steered to Carroll County by longtime friend and colleague Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen of Chabad of Owings Mills.
“He told me that there must be some Jewish growth over there and to look into it, do the homework and see what you can find,” Cohen said. “He said there were a few families from Carroll County that were coming to him. So, maybe it’s time that they have their own. There was a time, maybe 10 years ago, there was a Jewish synagogue out there. A Conservative temple called Beth Shalom and that closed. There were still Jews living out there … but there was no rabbi for the community.”
Cohen said when he and his wife moved to Eldersburg, they knew one Jewish family.
“We had to take a leap of faith and hope everything’s going to work out for the best,” Cohen said. “But we knew we were going to try and help the community and lift it up. And we were very much welcomed with open hands every time we found someone.”
Today, they know hundreds of Jews, for which Cohen gives much credit to his wife and center programming, from menorah lightings and menorah building workshops to the women’s challah bake. The shul also offers children’s education and after-school programs, adult education and a women’s group.
Last year, the Chabad center drew more than 120 people to High Holiday services and the couple expects more of the same this year, including many young families with children. Cohen said there has also been a recent influx of people from the Winands Road Synagogue Center, which closed in the spring and merged with Beth Tfiloh Congregation.
Rosh Hashanah services will include children’s programs, which Cohen said are a focus for the center. On Sept. 10, following morning services, the children’s service at 10:30 will include a magician. On Sept. 11, the children’s service will include a ventriloquist.
“For the children, we want to make it friendly, that children should always be welcome to shul and to synagogue. Unfortunately, in the world not all synagogues are that welcoming, or young children don’t always feel welcome,” Cohen said. “I love to see young faces. It’s the children of the next generation that’s going to keep Judaism alive. So, if we give them a love for it, and an excitement in it, then it’s going to work. If we bring them in with open arms, then they’re going to enjoy it.”
As is the model at Chabad centers, there is no membership fee to join the center, nor are there fees for High Holiday services, although people are asked to make reservations at the center’s website, jewishcarrollcounty.com, where attendees can also make a donation to the shul.
“For the High Holidays, our idea is to try and create an atmosphere that is the most welcoming atmosphere for everybody and to feel first of all engaged throughout the services, to understand what’s going on,” Cohen said. “That’s my job as a rabbi, to be able to keep them involved, to know what’s going on through the services and to give some insights to make it somewhat meaningful in a spiritual sense. Something that can apply to their lives the rest of the year. Some people we only see once a year, so we want to give them something they can take away to keep them going throughout the year in the best way.”